It's so late in the day that this is almost a "belated birthday greeting" to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I mentioned at Mass this morning, if you count nine months back from this date you find yourself at December 8 on the calendar, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. (The church celebrated Mary's nativity prior to establishing the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Thus, it was the natal feast day that determined the date of the feast of conception.) If you keep those two dates in mind, you'll always remember correctly that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, Anne --not the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb.
The images above are paintings by Giotto di Bondone from two series of frescoes in the Cappella Scrovegni in Padua: Scenes from the life of Joachim and Scenes from the life of the Virgin. The first is titled Annunciation to St. Anne and the second, Birth of the Virgin.
(Click on the images above for larger, detailed versions.)
The (non-scriptural) legend is that Anne and her husband Joachim were getting old and were childless. An angel appeared to Anne to announce that she would have a child who would be the mother of all mercies. In the first painting, St. Anne is the central figure with a servant girl on the left and the angel on the right. In the second painting, Anne is handed her newborn daughter in swaddling clothes. Another image of Mary appears in the scene in front of the bed.
Here's a poem that appeared in America last year: a tribute to our Mother, Mary, and a lesson in seeking her intercession.
After my late aunt got her third new hip,
The third in an eventual parade of seven,
I call to razz her about having more hips
Now than she had been originally issued,
& she laughed but then characteristically
Sailed off in a disquisition about prayer
And how it did and didn’t work hipwise,
And how the doctors had used the bones
Of a deceased woman in her hip surgery,
And how she conversed with the Mother
About this among various other subjects,
And the Mother, noted my cheerful aunt,
Was a woman of endless gentle patience,
For I pepper the poor soul with moaning
And complaints all the blessed day long,
Said my cheerful aunt, and She does not
Tell me to stuff it, or hasn’t yet, anyway.
All day long I rattle and prattle and chat
And She listens and then finally I’ll stop
Talking at which point I finally hear Her.
I think maybe that’s the way She speaks
To everyone but everyone doesn’t listen
All that well, that’s the greatest problem
With men and women, the first example
In this particular crucial regard being me,
You know what I mean? Ah, yes, you do.
- Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland in Oregon. He is also the author of eight books of essays, nonfiction and “proems,” including Epiphanies and Elegies.-ConcordPastor